When I left for college 15 years ago (Oh man, has it really been 15 years? Sigh… I miss college…), one piece of advice my parents flung at me (along with all those other things that fresh-out-of-high-school kids are always told) was to always visit my professors during office hours. “That’s how you get an A, son,” my dad said, in that Dad Voice we all know: authoritative, with a side of don’t-question-me-I’m-an-expert-at-this-ness. Mom concurred. And I thought, “Of course I’ll go to office hours. Or I won’t. It won’t matter because COLLEGE!”

And then I moved 1100 miles away and didn’t know a soul. And I was in my first lecture hall and there were 900 other people with me, and we learned about geology in some general way. And the professor, a dot down on the stage, told us all about his office hours, and I thought, “There is no way in heck that I’m going to his office hours; he looks down-right scary and intimidating and who am I but some lowly freshman, one of 900.”  I thought this about all my classes freshman year.  Then, one day, I had to go to office hours for an English professor. And it was awesome. I learned so much (and got a better grade on my paper to boot), and started to ask the “right” questions, and everything got a little more clear.

Later, as a graduate student teaching assistant, I taught English 101. I scheduled more office hours than needed. Most of the time, no one came. But, every semester, one or two students ventured along and we talked about their papers, and the texts, and also about sports and music and movies. And every time, I pushed my students to ask better questions, to not just be placated by finding an answer and moving on, but learning why and how and what the next steps were, because there were always next steps. It wasn’t, “Fix this and you’ll have an A paper.” It was, “Fix this, and then we’ll look again. After that, we’ll fix another thing and have another look. And then another. And then you’ll have an A paper.” It was never a one-step process, because often you have to fix a major thing before you can work on some of the minor things. And then comes the finesse steps, where you look at the minutia and work to tidy those things up until you’ve done the best darn job you can do. It’s a lot of work. But boy, do you have a nice paper when all is said and done.

Now, why go through all of this? Because it’s all about overcoming fear and asking the right questions. And once you’ve done it the first time, it becomes that much easier the second time. And the third. And the fourth. Et cetera. Ad nauseam.

What, then, does all of this have to do with credit unioning? Because, in my tenure here at Verity, I’ve found that many people don’t ask questions, much less the “right” questions. There are a myriad of reasons for this, I’m sure. But, delving into the situation, I’ve found that many people don’t know there are questions to ask. Or, they ask misleading questions. Or, they’re unsure of where to direct questions. Or they ask questions around the actual question they want to ask. Or they have questions, but simply don’t ask them.

As you’ve perhaps noticed, there is no one way to a healthy financial life. There are retirement plans, and making sure you’re getting the most points, and avoiding fees, and free checking, and interest rates, and CDs, and online banking, and credit cards and mortgages. Most of the people who sit with me don’t have questions, or if they do, they’re procedural questions about requirements or minimum balances or online banking. And that’s okay. Those are important, too. I did the same thing – I still do, in some instances, even when I know I shouldn’t. It’s how we roll, as they say.

It makes sense, though. Finances are private. We don’t wander up to strangers on the street and say, “I make $56,000 a year” or “My mortgage is at 4.125%” or “I get points while using my debit card.” I suppose some people might, but I think they’re the outliers. Finances are usually held tight, not discussed except late at night. But there are times and places for everything, and there is a time and place to discuss finances. Even if you don’t want to talk about it at any other point in history, you should at least talk about it once.

And that’s where we come in.

There’s the common perception that credit unions do checking and savings accounts, but after that they’re a little touch-and-go. That’s simply not true. We’re not big scary monsters, waiting to jump out from behind a corner and scare you. We’re here to help. Your membership fee provides you with so many resources, it’s almost criminal not to ask how we can help.

So with 2015 squarely upon us, the holiday season fading into the rearview mirror, stop by a branch or give us a call and see what we can do for you. We’ve got financial coachesinvestment specialistsmortgage specialists and loan specialists. We have youth accountschecking and savings accountsCDs and credit cards. We can help you repair credit, consolidate debt, build your 2015 budget, plan for and set up retirement accounts, and start a new business. We can help you save and pay for a new homecarsbikes, education, travel or even furniture.

Of course, we aren’t magicians. There is no wand to wave and make it all disappear, and some solutions might take one or two or three years. Other solutions may not be possible under current circumstances. There’s certainly no guarantee. But if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. And even if it’ll take five years before you get to where you want to go, know that we’ll be right here for the short-term, the long-term, and for any changes that might happen along the way.

We do all this for you, our members. We want to help. It’s what makes us who we are.

I know it’s hard to ask questions, or even grapple with the fear of asking the wrong questions. I’ve been there. That first office hours meeting was terrifying. But once I asked the first question, the next one was easier. And then we were talking, and it was easy. So if you have any questions, or just want to talk about financial health, no strings attached, come on in or give us a call. We’re here for you.

Matthew Kingston

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